AUBURN — Duncan Gelder, a sophomore at Edward Little High School, has noticed that teachers “are not there after school anymore.”

At the Auburn Middle School, Roberta O’Neill, Carl Bucciantini and dozens of other teachers walked into school Tuesday morning — all together — at 7:13 a.m.

They usually go in around 6:30 to get ready for class.

“You want to be in your room early,” O’Neill said. “It’s very difficult time for teachers to work to rule.”

Teachers said they’re taking a stand.

To protest the lack of a labor contract agreement, they’re going toward a work-to-rule move, which means teachers “are working to the letter of the contract” and no more, the head of the union said Tuesday.

“We’re frustrated there’s no progress,” said Timothy Wegmann, president of the Auburn Education Association and teacher at Park Avenue School.

Auburn School Superintendent Thomas Morrill criticized the action as unprofessional, and said teachers have an obligation to students.

The Auburn teachers’ contract expired in August 2008. Two big issues are health care and education policy language.
The school department wants to eliminate paying for health care premiums of teachers’ spouses. In exchange they’d boost salaries and pay for 100 percent of the premium of teachers and their children.

Spouses of many teachers work for businesses that offer health care, but offer cash incentives for workers to take health insurance elsewhere, Morrill has said. Those businesses are avoiding a cost other employers accept, and are shifting that cost to Auburn taxpayers.

Teachers object. “Over the years, teachers have given up pay raises in lieu of benefits,” said middle school teacher Bucciantini. “Now benefits are being cut.”

Teachers and administrators also disagree over proposed contract language that teachers say could mean working more without being paid.

Many teachers come into their schools “for weeks or days in the summer on their own time” to prepare classrooms, Bucciantini said. “That’s become an expectation.”

On Tuesday, Wegmann met with Auburn Middle School teachers updating them on the negotiations, and talk about the work-to-rule move.

Teachers will continue to teach 100 percent during the school day as normal, he said. Because Maine labor laws do not allow teachers to strike, “the only thing we can do is withhold the extra things we do.”

Those extras include staying after school or coming in before, chaperoning at dances, helping with fundraisers, volunteering during art or music nights, running drama or recycling clubs.

Superintendent Morrill called the union’s action “another difficult thing.”

Last week teachers refused to attend open houses when parents were scheduled to meet with teachers, prompting Morrill to cancel open houses.

Teachers are expected to “work in a professional manner. Interpreting the work to rule, not everything a professional does is spelled out in a contract,” Morrill said Tuesday.

Some activities teachers have done regularly in the past. “Our expectation is for those activities to continue.” When some are withheld, “the impact on students is damaging.”

Doing only what the contract spells out creates a dilemma for teachers, including the many “who did go in early” Tuesday, Morrill said.

Labor contract disagreements “should be taken up at the negotiation table, not in other forms that do not serve our students well,” Morrill added.

Wegmann said the no-more-than-the-contract-says tactic is done when unions and management fail to reach agreement.

Morrill said he hopes “some resolution will be struck soon. We’re even sitting down at the table later this week.”

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